The Saturday City: Brasov

By Nomadic Matt | Published August 20th, 2011

I loved my visit to Romania and I found Brasov to my favorite city. I had the best time there and I found it to be a wonderful base for exploring the area. For some reason, hardly anyone visits Romania. I rarely ever saw any large groups of tourists while here. But for the travelers that make the journey, they all seem to flock to Brasov. Out of the all the places in Romania I visited, Brasov definitely had the most people. I think people are drawn here by the Dracula mythology, though there is nothing related to him here. (There’s sadly very little Dracula tourism in Romania. I was very disappointed as I wanted some cheesy tourist traps dedicated to him.) And since there is a lot to do in this part of Transylvania, Brasov makes a logical base of operations for most people.

Despite the crowds (and I use that term loosely when comparing to places like Paris or Amsterdam), I liked Brasov as I found the mix between historic and modern very well balanced. The core of the city is this beautiful medieval destination but walk five minutes out in any direction and you start to see modern glass buildings, malls, and wide streets. Moreover, Brasov has a wide variety of food from local Romanian fare to good international food. I also enjoyed the fact that there were a lot of hiking trails where you could escape the chaos of the town center. The city had energy, lots to do, and a close proximity to nature. Throw in some medieval buildings and there’s no way I wouldn’t go back to visit. If you find yourself in Brasov, here’s what I recommend doing:

Free Walking Tour – There is a free walking tour run by some local students. (They also do one in Bucharest too.) It last about 2-3 hours and takes you all over the city. It’s very comprehensive and they provide a good overview of the history of Brasov. It leaves at 6pm from the town square.

Main square in Brasov, Romania

The Black Church – The main Gothic style church in the country, this church is “black” because most of it burned down in the Great Fire of 1689. Most of the interior is actually Baroque style now though many parts of the original Gothic work remain. It has also been redone a few other times since that fire. I can’t say it’s the best church I’ve ever seen but it was still interesting to look at considering the wide array of architectural styles inside.

Town Museum – Located in the town hall, this museum features artifacts from the stone age up until the present. The best part of the museum is the detailed timeline of the city at the start of the museum. The museum is mostly artifacts, old furniture, and some weapons and suffers from a common problem most museums in Romania have – poor descriptions. You don’t get a lot of context for what you are looking at. That being said, I would still go back because of all the historical relics.

brasov sign

Hike the Mountain – Offering a beautiful view of the old city and the surrounding area, Tampa mountain is the big mountain you see right next to the city. You can hike up it if you want (it’s not that steep and takes about an hour) or you can take the cable car up. There’s a restaurant on top and you can also hang out by the Hollywood-esque Brasov sign.

Rope Street – The narrowest street in Europe at 1.3 meters (4 ft) wide. Other than being really tiny, there’s nothing really special about the street but it does make for some good photos.

st nicholas church in shei district

The Schei district – This district located outside the city walls was were the Romanians used to live. Only Saxons were originally allowed to live inside the city walls, forcing the Romanians to live undefended outside. Today, the area is a maze of cobblestone streets with medieval looking homes, quiet streets, a few really posh houses, and no tourists. I ended up wandering around this area “getting lost” for about 3 hours. It was a peaceful alternative to the busy city center and my walk was one of the highlights of my time in the city. I find nothing more peaceful than an aimless walk through a historic area.

The First Romanian School – In the Schei district, you’ll find two points of interest: the first Romanian school and St. Nicholas church, which are both located in the same place. The school is a two room building. One side has a classroom; the other side highlights the first printing press and original books from the 16th and 17th century. The docent gives a good little talk on the history of the school from its in 1499.

bran castle

Bran Castle - Bran castle is a hugely touristy castle near Brasov. I’m not sure why but people refer to it as “Dracula’s castle” considering he never stayed there and it has nothing to do with him. But hey, it draws the crowds. (They do have 1 room dedicated to his life and legend.) Despite all the people, I really did enjoy the castle. It’s a beautiful medieval fortress and the grounds around the castle are nice too. Try to get there very early in the morning to avoid the maddening crowds.

Rasnov Fortress – Rasnov is the second big attraction in the area, after Bran castle. Inside the citadel, you can find an interesting museum, archery, a tavern. There are also sweeping views of the surrounding countryside as well as of the Hollywood-esque Rasnov sign. (They really like their big signs in this area.) The town itself is a mini version of Brasov and is along the way to Bran castle so it’s convenient to get too. I took the bus to Bran and the on the way back to Brasov, visited Rasnov.

Main square in Brasov, Romania

There are a few other activities to do in town. I enjoyed visiting the old historic walls and bastions that still exist. There are also two big towers, the White Tower and the Black Tower, that over look the town. They were old guard towers and provide excellent views of the city. Just don’t pay money to go into them (or any of the other bastions either). They are a huge rip off as there is really nothing inside worth seeing and with the roofs closed off, you don’t even get a better vantage of the city for your photos.

Brasov combined the medieval and modern very well. It had a lot more energy and charm than other places in Romania and unlike most of the other medieval cities I saw in Romania, it didn’t shut down at 11pm. Overall, Brasov was just great. The downside to its greatness is that it becomes the main destination for most tourists coming to Romania. But once outside the main town square, you’ll only share the city with the locals.

comments 14 Comments

Clint

Great post. Romania is definitely on my list of places to visit next

Brasov has been on my Wanderlust List forever.

Did you see any bears?

NomadicMatt

None!

In Zarnesti, near Brasov, there is a sanctuary for bears that were saved from circus or (private) zoo (http://bearsanctuary.com/libearty-bear-sanctuary). There are a lot of bears in the wild in the forests from Romania, but you’d better be careful if you ever meet one.

Oh, familiar views! :) I’ve been in a business trip to Romania just a year ago

Glad to see some attention on Transylvania, such an interesting part of Europe. I really like Brasov as well.

Cat

Very comprehensive, Matt! I had the pleasure of visiting Romania over the Easter holidays and had a wonderful time, despite piggybacking on a trip my friends had already planned. It might be useful to add that the Saxon fortified churches, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the town center of Sighisoara, Vlad the Impaler’s birthplace, are also close by.

And, if you get the chance, go up to the Maramures region. George, a man featured in Lonely Planet, will set you up with a place to stay near to the painted churches. Wonderful man with a friendly dog and a wife who will keep you stuffed.

As a Google search will clear it – Rope street is not the narrowest street in Europe though. I think the German street Spreuerhofstra├če in Reutlingen would be the one that can be called either the Europe or the World’s narrowest street.

NomadicMatt

According to the tourist board, it is. And I looked online and found a lot of websites saying it is. So there is clearly a mixed message here over which street is then smaller.

Daniel

Hi Matt,

I was wondering when you’ll visit my native country and I saw you’ve finally been there. I was waiting to read your impressions but all I saw was the entry on the “beggar in Romania”. I thought, oh boy, not that old clich├ę of “begars of ex-comunist Romania” again…

But you pleasantly surprised me with this article… I know a lot of westerners who fall in love with Romania, but coming from you who has already visited almost the whole world, youe appreciative words are even stronger.

(a regular reader of your blog)

sorry, I wanted to post the above comment on the other post about Romania :)

anyway, if you miss Brasov, here are some photos I made three years ago

Glad you enjoyed your visit and sorry I wasn’t able to meet you IRL. You should have definitely visited Cluj-Napoca, one of the most beautiful Romanian cities. You’d have loved it even more than Brasov.

Come again soon!

NomadicMatt

I’d love to come back. Maybe next time our schedules will work then.

As a Romanian myself, I am very happy to hear people enjoy my country. Sadly, you are 100% right – Romanians don’t know how to promote their best treasures – the still untouched (and rich variety) nature, the medieval cities, the regional customs, the food, the Romanian agritourism (the biggest potential ever) and even the Dracula myth. There are very few souvenirs by Bran Castle and a cheesy tiny horror “museum.” It’s funny I see Transylvania movie ads all over NYC, but nothing of that nature in Romania … We have a LONG way to go in boosting our tourism industry and it is such a shame! Because Romania truly has a lot to offer, and few people are aware of it.

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